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Wooing the West Bollywood style

By Soumik Sen in New Delhi
June 09, 2004 08:56 IST
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India's most famous baritone is all set to deliver film dialogues in English for the Western cinema-goers in AB Corp's first attempt at "crossing over" and reaching out to the English-speaking, international film audience.

The film, titled Versus, will be Amitabh Bachchan's first full-length English feature film.

"It's a regular feature film which will be shot in two versions -- a songless 90-minute version for the English audience, and a lengthier (with songs) two-hour version for the Hindi-speaking viewers," informs AB Corp president and chief executive officer, P Ramesh. The Hindi film is called Viruddh.

If Amitabh Bachchan chooses to articulate in English for the overseas audiences, can others be far behind? Filmmaker Subhash Ghai's Rs 30-crore (Rs 300 million) period drama Kisna (starring Vivek Oberoi) is being shot in a similar fashion.

Like Viruddh, it will have a longer, Hindi version with songs and a shorter, songless English version. The film starring a host of British actors is scheduled for a November release.

To be sure, Bachchan and Ghai are not a lonely twosome trying to woo the international, English-speaking audience with desi Hindi films in a language the overseas audience understands.

Several others of their tribe have bigger plans. Vidhu Vinod Chopra ia making films in the English language in collaboration with international film companies.

Chopra, producer of Munnabhai MBBS, for instance, is currently overseas, busy attending to pre-production details of his English film Move 5, a $30-million project being co-produced with Bobby Newmeyer and Jeff Silver of Outlaw Productions.

The entire cast and crew for the film are being taken from Hollywood. The film will cater purely to the English speaking Western audience.

Amidst the big budget film clutter, there's also the film company Percept Picture which has tied up with Michael Douglas' Further Films to co-produce a $65-million film Racing the Monsoon in 2005.

"The

deal has been signed," says Sunil Sajhwani, CEO, Percept Picture. "We are now trying to rope in a leading Bollywood actress to star opposite Michael Douglas," he informs.

The film is set in India and is loosely structured as a sequel to the 1980s hit Jewel of the Nile. The work on the film started six months ago when Jane Fraser, the executive producer of the project, who worked on Face Off as well, was in India in January to check out possible locations.

Meanwhile, even before Versus hits the floor, it seems to have recovered half its production cost of Rs 15 crore (Rs 150 million) by selling its overseas distribution rights to a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur.

The name of the distributor is being kept a secret till the company unveils it at a press conference later this month. The film is an AB Corp and Satyajit Movies co-production featuring the Big B, Sharmila Tagore, Sunjay Dutt and Saif Ali Khan.

Director Mahesh Manjrekar will shortly leave for Los Angeles to audition Hollywood actors for various roles in the film. This will be AB Corp's first step towards eventually setting up a full-fledged studio setup in the US, informs P Ramesh.

So will the trickle of English versions of Hindi films turn into a flood?

"I think its too early to classify it as a trend, and the very fact that most producers are sticking to a Hindi version shows their apprehension regarding selling an out and out English version," says film trade analyst Komal Nahata. However, he feels that its a welcome effort to reach out to a larger audience.

But going by the latest Hindi film Hum Tum's US collections in the first week (pegged at $400,000) and the film featuring among the top 10 grossers in the UK, it may not be long before others jump in to exploit the increasing popularity of Hindi films abroad.

The first moves have been made but whether the Indian film industry can truly become a leading player in the international film market, irrespective of language constraints, remains to be seen.

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Soumik Sen in New Delhi
 

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